It's no secret that Google is the kingpin when it comes to web search. "Google it" has become an everyday term and it's the search engine of choice for the largest percentage of web users, worldwide. Bing has done whatever they can to step up to the plate, but even though they match up to Google in look-and-feel, functionality, features and they even sometimes come up tops for marketers in terms of their webmaster and keyword tools; the public prefer Google.
Is Google Abusing Their Power?
While Google's positioning hasn't been an issue for marketers in the past, it appears that soon it will be. If you've ever worked with any analytics software, you'll know that many of the valuable search terms and data surrounding searches on Google have shown up as "not provided". Meaning that Google masks that information so as to limit the amount of insight gained from their organic search traffic. Why would they do this? In the past, this has been because of users being logged into any of their Google accounts while searching the web so as to protect their privacy. Conspiracy theorists will claim that it's because Google don't want web owners to use SEO (unpaid) methods to direct users to their websites, but would rather encourage them to use PPC (pay per click advertising - paid) methods, because there are shareholders who need to be kept happy. By hiding the data that depicts the success of SEO marketing efforts, it makes it difficult to pinpoint where results are actually coming from.
This hasn't proved to be too much of an issue in the past, because even though a large percentage of information comes up as "not provided", we've still been able to gain enough insight into organic versus paid searches and how they're impacting on marketing campaigns. That is until now. The percentage of "not provided" information is set to rise to 100%, making it really difficult for marketers to determine the validity of their chosen keywords and strategies, and their success thereto.
What Does This Mean For Marketers And Web Users?
It means that marketers are limited in how they can highlight the efficacy of the work they do. It's not going to be a simple case of "look, I earned you those leads because of the traffic I directed to your site via SEO". We're going to have to work a lot harder to show our clients that what we're doing is actually of benefit to them and is money well spent.
On the user side of things, it's a little more difficult for marketers to tailor web experiences for the user. We can't learn as much from our data as we did before, and we won't be able to get inside the psyche of the user as easily as we used to because of the big blank space of "not provided" information.
So How Do We Do Our Jobs? Potential Solutions...
Rand Fishkin recently did a Whiteboard Friday (actually it was a Whiteboard Tuesday this time around) on the subject of "not provided" and he showcased a few ways that we can get around this hitch. But even after one of the most influential marketers stepped up to show us how to work with this, it's perfectly clear that we're not going to be getting anywhere near as much benefit from our reporting data as we used to in the past, and no matter what we do, it's going to involve a lot more work.
We'd all be at an advantage to follow Rand's suggestions, so we've summarized them here for you to check out:
In order to be able to keep tabs on the things we've always monitored in the past, we have to make some changes in the way we do things. Stuff we've taken for granted before, such as:
- Determining why bounce rates for certain pages are high by looking at the keywords used to find the page and the context of the page
- Monitoring improvement in rank in relation to improvements in traffic
- Understanding how web users see your brand based on the words they use to find your information
- Improving on search terms and the traffic they generate
- We're going to have to take a step back and look at what information we need to serve our clients and how best to gain that from insights we're presented with.
Page Level Data Instead Of Keyword Data
Instead of looking at our search terms, how they're performing and where they're leading traffic, we have to start looking at data relating to the page itself. What pages are performing? How are these pages ranking and what keywords are they ranking for? All of these can be looked at to see where improvements need to be made.
As per Rand's suggestions, we can even go so far as to use Adwords to identify the volumes for chosen keywords to see if they're still viable choices for optimization. We can also get a vague idea of what keywords are sending traffic using Google Webmaster Tools, although this has never been an accurate tool for this purpose.
Using all of this information tied together, we can get an understanding of how our pages are performing based on their current keywords and content.
Connecting SEO And Traffic Growth
The area where SEO professionals will feel the biggest knock is when trying to validate to their clients that the traffic being brought in is via organic means, which is also related to their SEO efforts. This is also probably the area that will now separate the "men from the boys" so to speak, as only those who are "savvy" enough, as Rand puts it, will still be able to come to the party.
While not really a sure-fire method of determining your SEO and organic traffic success, it can help to distinguish what traffic is being generated from certain sets of keywords. Using Adwords data, you can divide your keywords up into bundles based on their volumes: high, medium and low. Have a look at which pages are ranking for those keyword bundles in order to monitor the rank for the bundles. If the page is receiving traffic, it's ranking for terms, then we can assume it's performing optimally, as are the search terms. Conversely, if it's not, we can look at the bundle of keywords and see how we can tweak them to help boost the performance of the pages in question.
Uncovering New Keyword Data
Again, we have to be clever here and put in a lot more legwork, but it's not impossible. Without being able to learn from our insights in analytics, we have to go back to the drawing board when determining new keywords. Using personal insight, keyword suggestion tools and internal keyword data from site searches, we can pinpoint some common denominators that might prove profitable for search optimization. Once we've selected them, we'd have to monitor them in the same ways as mentioned above, using page level data and a bundled approach to their performance.
We can also run our own Adwords campaigns to at least gain insight into impressions received based on keywords. We'd be giving in and paying for this information, but it wouldn't be for nothing. We'd still gain leads, even though they wouldn't be organic and we'd be able to see where are strongest keyword competitors lie.
My feeling is that there are soon going to be a mountain of resources available on how to beat the "not provided" situation that's being presented to us, but at the end of the day, it's something we need to evolve with. As Rand pointed out, only the strong will survive, so if you're 100% set on getting the results and being able to prove them, you'll make a plan to make this work for you.
Any other ideas you want to share with us on the matter?